The Average Cost of Food in a Household Budget

by Wilhelm Schnotz
On average, an American spends about $500 on groceries each month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Although every household must devote a chunk of its monthly budget to grocery bills, eating habits can greatly influence food expenditures. Comparing your food cost against average expenditures helps determine if there's room to cut food costs or if your food budget is typical for a household of your size.

As a Percentage of Budget

Earnings vary widely among households and enable some families to spend more money on groceries than others. Because of this, families that examine their food budget as a percentage of their overall after-tax gross income may get a clear picture of their expenditures. Most households should budget no more than 15 percent of gross income for food costs, according to Quicken. This figure includes the cost for meals you prepare yourself in your home as well as the tab for eating out.

USDA Food Plans

The U.S. Department of Agriculture tracks the cost of balanced meals at four budgeting levels, from thrifty to liberal. The plans project costs for children, men and women of various ages. As of October 2012, the moderate plan -- or the “average” cost bracket -- for a 19- to 50-year-old male projects $292.80 per month and $250.60 for a woman in the same age bracket. The USDA predicts that a two-parent family with two elementary-school-aged children spends $1,024 each month on food to prepare at home.

Bureau of Labor Statistics Data

While many variables influence a household’s food budget, such as income levels and family size, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics examines spending by all consumers across the board. In 2011, the average person spent a total of $6,458 each year on food. Americans in the middle fifth of annual income levels -- which the Tax Policy Center describes as $15,570 to $25,102 for single filers and $65,469 to $90,474 for joint filers -- spend about 13.3 percent of their income on food. In comparison the poorest 20 percent of households -- those that earn less than $8,294 as singles or $37,621 as joint filers -- spend 16.1 percent of their income on food. The richest 20 percent -- individuals earning at least $43,478 or couples earning more than $148,951 -- spend about 11.6 percent of their budget on food.

Taming Your Grocery Budget

If you determine that you spend too much money on food, several strategies help bring your food bill closer to averages. Reduce how often you eat out to dramatically slash your food bills. Plan a weekly menu before you go shopping, and shop around that menu. Scan supermarkets’ ads before creating your menu and take advantage of sale prices. Most shoppers purchase less if they shop by themselves and after they eat, as impulse buys and other unnecessary purchases are easier to avoid when you're not influenced by others or by hunger.

About the Author

Wilhelm Schnotz has worked as a freelance writer since 1998, covering arts and entertainment, culture and financial stories for a variety of consumer publications. His work has appeared in dozens of print titles, including "TV Guide" and "The Dallas Observer." Schnotz holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University.

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